I will organize this by tiers and use my own opinions, and please take note that this is all hypothetical and no guarantees (but I wish!).
For those who aren't familiar with South Carolina's political geography, I will try to summarize it as best as I can.
Democratic strength resides in two of the most heavily populated counties being Richland County , containing the capital city of Columbia, and Charleston County, containing the city of Charleston.
There are also many small rural counties that are Democratic bastions across the state in which all office holders in those small counties are Democrats, most notably Lee County, Chester County, Allendale County, Jasper County, McCormick County, Calhoun County, Williamsburg County, and Darlington County just to name a few.
There are also areas across the state where conservative Democrats can still win down ballot races such as Chesterfield County, Abbeville County, Barnwell County, and Union County.
Then there are counties that have a large African American population that are reliably blue, most notably being Orangeburg County and Fairfield County.
Republicans are strong in the Upstate region with the deeply red and heavily populated counties of Greenville County, Spartanburg County, Oconee County, York County and Anderson County.
Republicans also do well along the coast, and have a strong presence in Horry County, which is home to Myrtle Beach, and Beaufort County.
And despite Columbia being a Democratic epicenter, the counties close to Richland County are deep red such as Lexington County, Newberry County, and Laurens County.
I hope that I gave you an idea to where the Democratic base is in SC and I hope it will help you understand the people who I've organized into tiers.
Top Tier Candidates:
State Rep. James Smith
Meet State Rep. James Smith. He has served in the state house for several years and has proven to be a leader despite being in the minority party. He has held Governor Nikki Haley accountable for her mishandling of DSS and has led the effort for progressive policies despite South Carolina being such a conservative state. He represents a portion of Columbia and is our best candidate for Governor in 2018 if Vincent Sheheen is unsuccessful. He has a strong military background and is well liked by both Democrats and Republicans in the state house and is the future of our party.
State Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell
Meet State Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell. Mandy is perhaps one of the most personable members of the legislature. I have enjoyed keeping up with her on social media and I had fun talking to her at the annual Clyburn Fish Fry. She represents Lancaster County, which is right outside of Rock Hill. She has led many bipartisan efforts in the state house. I could definitely see her running for statewide office in 2018. A Smith-Norrell ticket for Governor and Lt. Governor would be ideal.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch
Most of you will remember Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian and fellow SC native Stephen Colbert. She ran in the competitive special election to replace Tim Scott in the 1st congressional district against a scandal-plagued Ex-Governor Mark Sanford. The results of this election were disappointing, and I blame it on the race becoming too nationalized which enabled Sanford to tie her into national party figures like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama who are unpopular in that conservative coastal district. She told me at the state party convention "this isn't the last you'll hear from me", and what I interpreted that to mean is she will run against Sanford again in 2016 when hopefully the political environment will be better for her.
State Sen. Thomas McElveen
State Sen. Thomas McElveen represents the Sumter and Kershaw area in the state senate and is a practicing attorney. He is also the son of the mayor of Sumter, Joe McElveen. He hails from a family with long political ties to SC and I wouldn't be surprised if he threw his hat in the ring for Congress or another state executive office.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford has proven to be a great leader in the legislature and has held Governor Haley accountable for her corrupt administration. He represents a portion of Columbia. He is doing a great job managing the House Democratic Caucus and I could see him being a future office holder one day.
State Rep. Russell Ott
State Rep. Russell Ott is the son of longtime Ex-House Minority Leader Harry Ott. He won a special election last year to replace his father after he resigned and is a young, fresh face in the legislature. He represents parts of Calhoun, Lexington, and Orangeburg counties. I believe he, much like his father, will try to move up in the ranks of party leadership and eventually who knows where he will end up.
State Rep. Mia McLeod
State Rep. Mia McLeod is one of the most popular members of the legislature. She was considered as a potential candidate for Lt. Governor this year but she didn't want to run against fellow house member Bakari Sellers in the primary. She is another Democrat representing a portion of the Columbia area. Mia is someone I can see running for the 6th congressional district once Jim Clyburn retires. Until then I believe she will continue to represent her house district in the legislature.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis was largely considered to be a candidate for Governor until Vincent Sheheen threw his hat back in the ring. Other than state executive office, I could see him running for state senate in his Charleston area seat, or even replacing Joe Riley as Mayor of Charleston whenever he retires. Either way, this isn't the last time you'll see his name.
State Rep. Beth Bernstein
State Rep. Beth Bernstein is a well known figure in Columbia. Her parents were involved in politics in the area for a long time, and she is a practicing attorney at a well known law office there. She is also the only Jewish member of the legislature and that makes her unique in her own right. She represents a swingy house seat that has been held by both parties and I think that can help her in higher offices in which she will need Republican crossover votes.
Attorney Preston Brittain
Some of you may remember Attorney Preston Brittain from his run for Congress in the newly created 7th congressional district back in 2012. There was a lot of drama in that Democratic primary that I really believed cost Preston the win. In case you don't remember, there were three frontrunners, Preston Brittain, State Rep. Ted Vick, and college professor Gloria Tinubu. If you don't remember, Ted Vick was arrested for a DUI and was caught with a much younger not-his-wife woman about a month before the primary, and he dropped out of the race but still remained on the ballot. This left Brittain and Tinubu. Brittain was a way better fundraiser than any of the other candidates and was young and had many connections throughout the district, and Tinubu was seen as a carpetbagger from Georgia, so naturally the state party got involved and endorsed Brittain. The primary came along and Tinubu won but the state party argued that the election wasn't valid because Vick's name remained on the ballot despite dropping out of the race, and potentially taking away votes that would have otherwise went to Brittain. A judge announced a recall election between the two and Tinubu won again and then lost the general by 10 points in the state's only swing seat. I hope Brittain decides to make another run for Congress or run for local office because we need to compete in his area.
State House Candidate Tombo Hite
Attorney Tombo Hite is one of my favorite Democrats the party has running for state house this cycle. He is running in an Abbeville centered district that his very Democratic down ballot and I really believe he will win this fall. He is young, attractive, and an all-around great guy. He really is the future of our party and could make a run for Congress or even Governor in the years to come. I can't wait to canvass for him. If you like contributing to state legislative races, I would send your campaign dollars to him to really see someone succeed in future statewide offices.
State House Candidate Joe McCulloch
Joe McCulloch is a well known attorney in the Columbia area and is running again for a state house seat that he lost back in 2012. It was announced that he had won the tight race on election night but about 300 ballots were "miraculously" found in a closet and his Republican opponent had won instead. So he's back for a rematch in what I believe is the Democrats easiest pickup opportunity so send your campaign dollars to him as well if you want to see progress made in the state house in a sort of allegiance the moderate republicans and democrats have created against the Tea Party crazies.
Richland County Probate Judge Amy McCulloch
Amy McCulloch is the Probate Judge for Richland County and the wife of the above mentioned Joe McCulloch. South Carolina doesn't exactly have any power couples in politics, but these two come the closest in my mind. I can definitely see these two flip flopping elected positions as election cycles pass by and who knows maybe we'll have our first husband and wife serving together in the legislature.
Richland County Treasurer David Adams
David Adams is the popular Treasurer for Richland County. He just survived a nasty primary against a state representative yet still managed to get 57% of the vote. To me that speaks volumes about his support and electability. I can see him moving up into higher offices throughout future cycles or maybe he could even run for Columbia Mayor.
Richland County Councilman Seth Rose
Seth Rose currently serves as a well liked Richland County Councilman. He is young and there is a lot of time for him to work his way into higher offices, maybe running for state house first, then moving up into other offices.
So as you can see, the Democratic Party has a future here in South Carolina. It has plenty of rising stars from all races, genders, and backgrounds and is going to thrive for years to come.
Do you have anyone else in mind as well that I didn't include? Leave me a comment and let me know why.